A Challenge and an Opportunity

By Ben Hamill - June 29 2015


I was going to write about my dream that the NHL would adopt the international rink size. That discussion will have to wait because I just came across a survey done last February that indicates both challenges ahead for the CFL and a golden opportunity for the league.

Followers of my blog on gamingpost.ca will recall that I prefer the CFL over the NFL because of the different rules and the larger field both of which make the CFL more exciting than the NFL even if CFL players generally are not "as good as" NFL players.

A Fascinating Correlation Between Religion and Sports

Now, there is an online survey that has some fascinating data. The survey was conducted by Dr. Reginald Bibby of the University of Lethbridge. I came across the report of the survey at Sportsnet. Dr. Bibby has been studying religious trends in Canada for decades. He sees religious affiliation and participation in a manner similar to how we see spectator sport affiliation and participation.

In spectator sports we use the terms fan and watch. These are basically equal to the terms affiliation and participation. Religious affiliation is weaker than in previous generations but it remains. In sports, people have so many options to pass the time that they don't need a sport when their interest wanes. The CFL should encourage interest for reasons other than team affiliation. In other words, watch our game because it's entertaining.

Believe it or Not—The CFL is Popular in the U.S.

According to the survey, the CFL is popular with 22% of Americans between 18 and 34 years of age. The Canadian demographic that follows the CFL most closely is the over-55 age bracket. Herewith are a few questions and observations:

What accounts for the popularity of CFL among one American demographic?

Can the CFL survive if it doesn't develop a stronger following among younger Canadians?

Can the CFL actually attract enough Americans to make the league more viable?

One explanation for the popularity of the CFL among the 18-34 age group is that these people followed college football during their college days and want to continue following players who couldn't play in the NFL after their college careers. This theory assumes that Americans will take an interest in the CFL only as long as their peers from college play in the CFL. Once their college peers retire, the Americans lose interest in the CFL, roughly around age 34!

I can't say whether this theory is correct or not but here is an undisputed fact: some young Americans adults enjoy the CFL brand of football in the same way they enjoy college football even though they are both admittedly not as good as the NFL; and the CFL does little or nothing to grow their interest! If 22% of American men and women follow the CFL until they're 34, why can't they continue to follow the league after they turn 35? And, if 22% of Americans between 18 and 34 like the CFL, why can't the number be 44% or more?

Americans Can't Wait for the Football Season to Open

I would like to venture another explanation for the popularity of the CFL among Americans and ways to make the CFL even more popular among Americans. The CFL season begins in July. American football ends in January or the first Sunday in February. Americans have shown their allegiance to football to be stronger than fans' allegiance to baseball. By July, American football fans are starved for football and the only game being played for real is up in Canada. If this explanation has any validity, then the CFL has been derelict in not pursuing a wider American audience. The number of Americans who follow the CFL should be at least equal to the number who follow baseball.

The Major League Baseball (MLB) season begins in April and ends in October when one month of playoffs begins. MLB teams play 162 games over six months, meaning they play almost every day. This is one of the many charms of baseball which sets it apart from all other team sports. But, in many cities around the U.S. fans know that their team will not make it to the playoffs, however the league expands the playoffs periodically in order to maintain interest in sad sack cities with hopelessly losing teams.

The CFL ought to be able to tap into the football starved people of the U.S. The CFL doesn't have a big television contract for the populous half of North America. But in the world of You Tube, cable television, and other alternative means of communication, the CFL should be able to reach many more than 22% of the demographic with the most disposable income.

The CFL May Die a Natural Death

This leads to the other datum that jumps out from the survey: the CFL today is most popular among over-55 Canadians. The league needs to encourage younger Canadians to see CFL football as a pleasant sporting diversion from the many sports opportunities Canadians enjoy during the short summer. In the U.S. there are many amateur softball leagues for the beer-belly crowd. The players play for fun. The CFL should sponsor Canadian rules football without the violent tackling and blocking of the CFL. If people played according to CFL rules, they would be more likely to want to watch or follow a professional game played by the same rules.

22% is Just a Start

I had no idea that so many young Americans follow the CFL. The survey may have caught the CFL by surprise as well. Now that the CFL knows that there is interest down south, and knowing that we have a superior game, if not superior players, it is up to the CFL to tap into that interest. As readers may already have surmised, I wouldn't mind at all if the NFL adopted CFL rules.